Isaak's story

Isaak was born overseas and spent several years in an orphanage. His biological parents were experiencing difficulties and couldn’t take care of him, and on weekends he was looked after by another ‘loving’ family. He was then sent to Australia under the child migrant scheme, and placed into a Christian Brothers boys’ home in Western Australia.

The home was a ‘harsh and cruel’ place. Isaak worked on the farm associated with the home or in the laundry, and never spent much time going to school. He was not allowed to contact his own family or the ‘adoptive’ family who had looked after him, which upset him greatly.

In the mid-1950s, when Isaak was 11, he was physically abused by the home’s principal, Brother Joseph. He was working in the laundry and accidentally caused the woollen socks to shrink while in the tumble dryer so was sent to Joseph’s office.

Joseph beat him up, and he recalls having a bloody nose and a few bruises after he left. The abuse continued later on that night.

The Brother ‘dragged me by the back of my head and dragged me to the laundry. He made me drag two cane baskets which were extremely heavy, full of wet shrunken socks, to the line. I was made to fill these with sand and hang them on the line. [Joseph] began to beat me with a stick across my legs and bottom … [Joseph] also pulled out a belt and beat me across the hands as I hung the socks up. [Joseph’s] belt was black, made of six or seven layers of leather and had a piece of metal in it … I still have scars from this beating now’.

Isaak was sexually abused multiple times by Joseph, including molestation and numerous attempts at anal penetration. He could not tell anyone about the abuse for three years.

At 15 Isaak confided in Brother Kerr because he was a ‘nice understanding man’. He told Kerr about the sexual abuse and beatings but was not believed.

In the late 1950s Isaak was dismissed from the home. As a 16-year-old boy he was illiterate and very much on his own. Being ‘ill prepared’ for the outside world he often struggled with simple tasks.

Throughout his adulthood Isaak has suffered from depression, panic attacks, stress, and anxiety. He also has flashbacks and nightmares. In his 50s he started reading children’s books to improve his literacy, but he still has difficulty in reading and writing.

Isaak has issues with his sexual identity, and has never had sex or been in a relationship as he ‘doesn’t want a bar of it’. He describes himself as a ‘lonely workaholic’ but ‘content’.

In the mid-1990s Isaak saw Joseph at the boys’ home reunion, and cornered him about the abuse. Joseph ‘went white’ and ‘didn’t say anything’. This meeting motivated Isaak to speak out. He contacted the police and made his statement, but the matter was not pursued.

After he had contacted the police, Isaak gained support from the Child Migrants Trust. Through the Trust, he was able to contact his biological family overseas and visited them. He also visited his adoptive family and discovered that his adoptive mother had written him countless letters. He is angry the Brothers did not give these to him.

In the late 1990s, Isaak was involved in the class action against the Brothers and received an out of court settlement. Being part of this action was an interesting experience. ‘The best part about it is the majority of the community says we weren’t liars.’ He was also a Redress WA applicant and he received a payment of $45,000.

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